Resident commissioner willing to become Puerto Rico secretary of State

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González(María Miranda/CB)

Says cabinet officials need to be replaced to regain Washington trust

SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in the U.S. Congress, Jenniffer González, rejected reports Thursday that she called newly sworn Gov. Wanda Vázquez to offer herself as secretary of State.

In a radio interview, Vázquez said it was González who expressed herself available for the position.

“It was the legislative presidents who made the request to me and I notified her and told her that the first thing I should do was meet with the legislative leadership and that among yourselves you can put an end to this controversy,” González replied to questions from the press.

However, the resident commissioner insisted that the decision to appoint a secretary of state falls solely and exclusively upon the governor.

“I am an elected official,” González said. “The presidents [House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez and the Senate’s Thomas Rivera Schatz] called me to ask about my availability. At no time did they tell me we will name you nor something else. And I told them that if it was the will of the legislative body and the governor, of course.”

The resident commissioner said that to regain credibility in the federal government, nearly all current cabinet officials must be removed.
“The political and constitutional crisis merits the sacrifice of all officials,” she said, adding that the “government of Puerto Rico has zero credibility in the federal capital. Its lobbyists have zero credibility in the federal capital. Fighting against that will mean making real changes,” she stressed.

González was meeting with the legislative presidents and several mayors of the New Progressive Party. She is expected to meet with the governor Thursday afternoon.

She said that she has been able to obtain more than 43 billion in federal funds but unfortunately that money has not reached Puerto Rico yet because there are doubts in Washington about how the funds will be managed. To date, Puerto Rico has received nearly $12 billion in federal funds to recover from the historic 2017 hurricane season.

“The ghost of corruption has put in doubt the access to those funds,” GOnzález said, adding that fundamental changes need to be made in all government structures.

—CyberNews contributed to this report.




Puerto Rico Senate president says he always supported Jenniffer González for secretary of State

Says she should be nominated immediately

SAN JUAN — Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz said Wednesday that he endorsed Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón for the secretary of State position from the beginning.

“I believe that the right person was and is Jenniffer González,” the Senate president said in a radio interview (Análisis 630 of Noti Uno).

The also New Progressive Party (NPP) president reiterated that González should have been nominated.

“I told the governor that it had to be an elected figure. Jenniffer González was his ballot companion; she got more votes than him. She is a Republican, has a good relationship with [President] Trump. That solves a serious problem Puerto Rico has because of Ricardo Rosselló,” he added.

The lawmaker stressed that the González should be nominated “immediately.”

“If we want peace, we cannot sacrifice quality for haste,” he said.

Rivera Schatz made his remarks just over an hour after the swearing-in of Wanda Vázquez Garced after the Supreme Court declared the 2005 amendments to Act 7 of 1952 unconstitutional, which led to the departure of Pedro Pierluisi who assumed the governorship after the resignation of Ricardo Rosselló after the Telegram chat scandal and the arrests of former cabinet officials by federal authorities.




Record Puerto Rico Treasury revenue expected to drop

Treasury Secretary Francisco Pares Alicea (Courtesy)

Secretary Parés points out it exceeded fiscal board projections 

SAN JUAN — While the Puerto Rico Treasury Department reported record-breaking tax revenue for fiscal year 2019, it is projecting a drop during current fiscal 2020 due to the implementation of enacted tax cuts

Puerto Rico Treasury Secretary Francisco Parés Alicea said that preliminary general fund net revenue totaled $11.38 billion for fiscal 2019, which ended June 30, an increase of 22 percent, or $2.06 billion over the $9.31 billion collected during fiscal 2018. The revenue rise was fueled mostly by greater corporate and individual income tax returns as well as by sales and use tax (IVU by its Spanish acronym) collections.

The 2019 figure was $1.14 billion, or 10 percent, higher than agency estimates, Parés said, noting that this was the third consecutive fiscal year Treasury exceeded revenue projections.

“This is a new record number for revenue collections,” the Treasury chief said in a statement.

Parés attributed the seemingly booming revenue to a “combination of several factors,” mainly economic activity generated by recovery and reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and María in 2017. He also credited revenue growth to the New Tax Model, which came into effect in January, and to the “successful implementation” since December of the second phase of the Internal Revenue Unified System (SURI by its Spanish acronym), as well as the Taxpayer Rehabilitation Program.

However, Parés said his agency was projecting that revenue for fiscal 2020, which began July 1, will reach $10.41 billion, 8.5 percent less when compared with fiscal 2019. The Treasury chief attributed the expected drop to the planned cut for the IVU on prepared food from the current 11.5 percent to 7 percent, which starts Oct. 1, as well as to enacted income tax cuts, and the earned-income tax credit.

The official said his agency expects to again meet estimates for the current fiscal year, noting that “the behavior of revenues in July, the first month of the fiscal year, was positive with respect to projections,” adding that tax compliance should continue to improve with the implementation in December of the third phase of the SURI system, which includes individual and corporate income taxes.

The main driver for last fiscal year’s record-breaking tax revenue was a $716.1 million, or 40.3 percent, increase in corporate income tax collections. Revenue in this category rose from $1.78 billion in 2018 to $2.49 billion in 2019, Parés said. Individual income tax collection rose by $264.2 million, or 13.5 percent, reflecting $2.22 billion in revenue compared with $1.96 billion in fiscal 2018.

Revenue from Act 154, which imposes a 4 percent excise tax paid by stateside companies on their purchases from Puerto Rico-based subsidiaries, increased by 8.8 percent, or $168.3 million, between fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Revenue in this category, which constitute almost one-fifth of the general fund revenue, rose from $1.68 billion in fiscal 2018 to $1.83 billion in fiscal 2019.

IVU revenue totaled $2.81 billion in fiscal 2019, a year-over-year increase of $283 million, or 11 percent. Some $2.3 billion in IVU revenue went into the commonwealth general fund, for a $653 million, or 39.7 percent, increase. IVU revenue to the general fund climbed from $1.65 billion in 2018 to $2.3 billion in 2019.

Parés said another $413 million in IVU revenue was allotted to the Puerto Rico Sales Tax Financing Corp. (Cofina by its Spanish acronym) Adjustment Plan, which was approved in February by U.S. District Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain, who oversees the island’s bankruptcy-like process. 

Moreover, motor vehicle excise tax revenue increased 27.5 percent, to $519.1 million in fiscal 2019, said the Treasury chief, who called this “the highest revenue level in 13 years.”

Parés stressed that Treasury’s revenue exceeded three projections by the island’s Financial Oversight & Management Board during the past year. The board had projected $8.5 billion in revenue at the beginning of fiscal 2019, in July last year. The fiscal panel again revised the amount to $10.2 billion on Oct. 23, and to $10.71 billion in the last fiscal plan it certified May 9.




Controversy over legality of Pierluisi as gov moves to Supreme Court

(CyberNews)

Assures he took office legally but will act prudently until ruling issued

SAN JUAN — “That is academic, that was left behind,” said lawyer Pedro Pierluisi, who was sworn in Friday as Puerto Rico’s governor, about the Senate not voting on his confirmation or expressing any approval of his succession. He and argued that the proper course of action was to wait for the Supreme Court’s decision regarding his legitimacy as governor. 

As for who decided he should be governor, Pierluisi reiterated that “I am the only one to whom that decision can be adjudicated.” However, the governor admitted that he received advice, including from lawyers, but he didn’t find it appropriate to divulge details of the conversation because, among other reasons, it includes “conversation between a client and his attorney.” 

“I received several writings, there were even articles in the press that analyzed this point [of the succession line] one way or the other. I did communicate with the secretary [of the Justice Department, Wanda Vázquez] but I don’t want to go into detail about what she said to me because I don’t find it necessary,” Pierluisi said, adding that the “secretary did not present any objection to me swearing-in.”

On Monday, the Supreme Court took up the case brought by the Senate and represented by its president, Thomas Rivera Schatz, in which it argued that because Pierluisi’s confirmation process as secretary of State was incomplete when former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s resignation became final, the person who should had taken the oath of office was the Justice secretary. 

In arguments presented to the Supreme Court and during Tuesday’s press conference, Pierluisi stressed that Puerto Rico’s Constitution clearly states the secretary of State is first in the line of succession and because he was a vacancy appointment during the legislature’s recess, he did not need the confirmation from both chambers established in the Constitution. 

Pierluisi also argued that he cannot be penalized for the Senate’s lack of approval because the upper chamber decided not to act when it closed its special session Aug. 1 without voting on his nomination. 

“The Senate, without a reasonable explanation, abdicated its power to enforce said constitutional faculty. In other words, the Senate renounced its right to confirm a secretary of State,” Pierluisi said. 

During Monday’s Senate session, Rivera Schatz said during his floor remarks that he postponed the vote on the nomination because Pierluisi asked for a hearing and, in any case, Pierluisi had not submitted the required documents. 

Pierluisi said it took him until Friday afternoon to gather all the documents requested by the Senate and argued that by then it would have been moot because he was already going to be sworn in as governor. 

When asked why he didn’t submit the documents while having urged the Senate to “ratify my incumbency,” Pierluisi said it would have set a bad precedent because those were for a Senate confirmation and the legislature is not supposed to confirm a governor. 

For Pierluisi, the issue of having his incumbency validated in some way is already out of the Senate’s hands because the proper course of action is to wait for the Supreme Court’s decision, which he said he would respect. 

While Pierluisi argued that he acted legally, he acknowledged there was “a cloud” over his tenure that needs to be lifted by the Supreme Court, the decision of which, he said, he will wait for before making any major policy decisions or cabinet changes.




Puerto Rico private sector endorses Pierluisi as gov

(CyberNews)

CofC, retailers, contractors and manufacturers await court ruling

SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico private sector representatives expressed approval Tuesday for Pedro Pierluisi to remain as governor. Making reference to the events that have unfolded during the past few weeks, private sector leaders met with Pierluisi in the morning at the La Fortaleza governor’s mansion and later spoke with reporters, saying they have the “expectation that the issue will be resolved soon.” 

Four days after Pierluisi took over the governor’s office, he faces lawsuits by the Senate and Municipality of San Juan, whose heads question the legitimacy of his having been sworn in without full legislative confirmation. 

“We are all grateful that in Puerto Rico we have a person in front of Puerto Rico that held on and took a step forward and dared to allow for Puerto Rico to continue moving forward, and that has continued supporting the economy,” United Retailers Association (CUD by its Spanish acronym) President Jorge Arguelles said.

The retailers’ association chief said that among the topics discussed in the meeting with Pierluisi were the inventory tax and “existing concerns regarding the federal fund process, which has also been interrupted.”

Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce President José Ledesma, meanwhile, noted that the business organization expects “this situation is resolved as soon as possible to give continuity to the government functions and retake economic development initiatives.”

Ledesma added: “We have seen sales drop in all sectors and we have the governor’s commitment that he will give continuity to this…. We want a person who has the temperament and the credibility to give continuity to the efforts in Washington, D.C., in healthcare, nutritional assistance, restructuring funds areas, among others. We will be monitoring this very closely but we hope that this situation will be resolved.”

The CofC president stressed that the private sector’s main concern is that the island’s economy is not permanently affected.

For his part, the president of the Associated General Contractors of Puerto Rico, Alejandro Adams, stressed that thousands of construction jobs have been put on hold given the suspension of projects.

“It’s time to turn the page,” said the chairman of the Puerto Rico Builders Association, Emilio Colón. “We are going to move on,” he assured. “There is a pressing need to rebuild Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico Retailers Association President Iván Báez, meanwhile, said the “country needs stability,” adding, “We know this in the hands of the Supreme Court and we hope for a prompt solution.”

Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association President Carlos Rodríguez appreciated the time set aside by Pierluisi to speak with private sector leaders, saying the effort sought to “eliminate this uncertainty.”

On Monday, Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court expedited a lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction to order that Pierluisi cease and desist from his function as sworn-in governor. The top court was also examining arguments on whether an amendment to Act 7 of 1952 was unconstitutional. 

Pierluisi was sworn-in as governor Friday a few hours after receiving the House of Representatives’ consent for his appointment as secretary of State with the 26 votes needed.  The former two-term resident commissioner was nominated by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to succeed him before he resigned Aug. 2. 




Puerto Rico Becomes Early Primary State

(Courtesy)

Departing gov enacts law to hold Democratic primary in March

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who said he would resign Friday at 5 p.m., has enacted Senate Bill 1323, to move the date of the Democratic presidential primary held on the island from the first Sunday in June to the last Sunday in March.

“This law intends to bring national attention to Puerto Rico, especially in the upcoming Democratic primaries. Currently, the primary is to be held in June, which reduces the impact we may have. By making Puerto Rico an early-voting state, candidates will be forced to pay attention to our needs,” Rosselló said.

The Republican primaries will continue to be held on the last Sunday in February.

Rosselló stressed that by changing the date of the presidential primary, Puerto Rico “becomes more relevant” as each party elects its presidential nominee.

“This legislative measure provides the opportunity to put Puerto Rico on the radar of potential presidential candidates in the Democratic Party. The candidates will not only pay attention to Puerto Rico but will have to clearly stipulate their positions regarding the issues that affect the island,” Rosselló added.




[Editorial] Something Wicked This Way Comes

Editor’s note: The following was first published in print on the Aug. 2, 2019, edition of Caribbean Business.

First, greed; then, fear—that is the paradigm in the realm of corporate and government malfeasance that often ensues when officers commit high crimes. As pertains to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s administration, high crimes—32 indictments against two former agency heads and contractors—and the publishing of private messages between the governor and an inner circle of high-ranking officials did the government in. The Ricky Leaks—889 pages of a Telegram app chat laced with profanity and mockery against the LGBTT community, women, obese people and those who suffered preventable deaths—led to massive protests that forced the governor to submit his resignation, which is effective Friday, Aug. 2.

As this newspaper was going to press, most people in Puerto Rico were on pins and needles, focused on the naming of a suitable secretary of State to succeed Rosselló. This fly in the ointment came after Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez, who was next in line after the resignation of former Secretary of State Luis G. Rivera Marín, announced she had little interest in occupying La Fortaleza—via Twitter, no less.

As everyone is focusing on this crisis of succession—asking will the successor be former Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, former Senate President Kenneth McClintock, former Treasury Secretary Teresita Fuentes, Senate V.P. Larry Seilhamer or Dr. Iván González Cancel—there are movements afoot by some members of U.S. Congress who are not particularly concerned about who is ultimately named the designated survivor.

To quote one source on Capitol Hill with ties to the GOP: “We don’t really care, but ultimately it should be someone who speaks American English and is a good administrator. On the other hand, if they were for independence, that might be music to our ears.” That source knows that members on both sides of the aisle, along with President Trump, are contemplating using rescission to reroute disaster funds already earmarked for Puerto Rico’s recovery.

Rescission is a process whereby the president proposes that funds in a previously provided authority by Congress be canceled. In this week’s Cover Story, Caribbean Business reports that the initiative to rescind the money is being discussed by representatives on the Hill who have reached out to the White House’s Legislative Affairs office to gauge Trump’s appetite for rescission. If the process gains traction, the plan is to use rescission “to do a different appropriation to direct the administration to use a very specific entry in the Promesa law where the OMB [Office of Management & Budget] would write a disbursement directive. So, OMB will say to all the agencies that any money destined for Puerto Rico will have to be sent to the [island’s fiscal oversight] board.”

The requests for proposal for the Home Repair, Reconstruction or Relocation program projects in the coming phase of disaster recovery funds require proponents to show evidence of liquidity, a price list on more than 3,000 items, as well as designs in advance. Construction managers looking to perform work within a large area must prove sufficient bonding capacity to cover, at a minimum, $25 million. For smaller contractors, the minimum is $5 million.

As this historic vortex pulls confidence in Puerto Rico down the drain, the island’s Legislative Assembly will be filing measures to enable referendums on constitutional amendments. If nothing else, if this crisis of confidence leads to amendments that improve our Constitution so a lieutenant governor is included on the ballot and the ability to conduct recall elections, as is the case in 19 states, something positive will have been achieved.

As to the prospects of the rescission of disaster-relief funding for Puerto Rico being employed, we must keep our eyes peeled. The message underpinning the indictments and the offensive discourse in the chat is that acts have consequences. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the consequences are dire for Puerto Rico’s reputation as a fertile jurisdiction for investment and for the prospects of sustainable development on this island, which has been mired in a 12-year economic slide.




Departing Puerto Rico governor makes several appointments

Omar Marrero, director of the Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnerships Authority and the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction & Resiliency (CB/Rafelli González Cotto)

Taps Marrero as CFO and fiscal agency director, and Chávez for COR3

SAN JUAN — Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who is resigning Friday, appointed Omar J. Marrero as executive director of the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (Aafaf by its Spanish acronym) and chief financial officer of the Government of Puerto Rico; and recommended Ottmar Chávez to serves as the executive director of the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience (COR3).

He also recommended Fermín E. Fontanés as executive director of the Public-Private Partnerships Authority (PPA); Noelia García Bardales as executive director of the Convention District Authority; and Margarita Nolasco as executive director of the Automobile Accident Compensation Administration (ACAA by its Spanish acronym).

The governor also recommended Erik Rolón as executive director of the Housing Financing Authority. Ottmar Chávez will remain as the administrator of the General Services Administration (ASG).

In all these appointments, except that of Aafaf’s executive director, the governor recommended to the boards of the corresponding entities to approve his recommendation.

“I announce these new appointments with the assurance that the officials will carry out their duty in a capable and responsible manner. All have vast experience working in the Government and their commitment to the Island is demonstrated in accepting these positions that allow us to continue executing our administration’s agenda,” the Rosselló said.

The governor’s office, La Fortaleza, gave the following short bios for the officials:

“Omar Marrero holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Dayton in Ohio, a juris doctor from the Law School of the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico and a Master’s degree in Law from the Law School of the University of New York.

“Marrero served as executive director of several agencies in the Government of Puerto Rico, which include COR3, the PPPA, the Convention District Authority and the Port Authority. He has also served as secretary of the Department of Consumer Affairs.

“On the other hand, Ottmar Chávez – who since January 2019 has worked as the main purchasing officer for COR3 – earned a bachelor’s degree in International Administration from Assumption College in Massachusetts and a master’s degree in Project Management and Supply Chain from George Washington University.

“Chávez has served as supply chain director, as director of programs and portfolios, and as a global purchasing leader.

“Meanwhile, Fermín E. Fontanés has a Bachelor of Science, Environmental Policy and Planning, from the University of Michigan and a juris doctor from the George Washington University School of Law.

“Fontanés has been a legal adviser to the PPPA since March 2018 and has handled aspects of the Electric Power Authority transaction under the Law to Transform the Puerto Rico Electric System.

“His experience has been focused on corporate transactions, regulatory compliance, permits and environmental litigation. He has provided consulting at all stages of a project, from the review of procedures and site selection, to the review of environmental impacts and permits.

“Furthermore, Noelia García Bardales holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the Río Piedras Campus of the University of Puerto Rico and postgraduate studies in International Business Administration from the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico.

“García Bardales – who was serving as deputy director of the Convention Center District Authority until yesterday [Tuesday] – has over 20 years of experience in public policy implementation.

“Among her work experience, her municipal integration consulting for the 911 Emergency System stands out, as well as her work as an independent consultant for the municipality of Corozal and for the Bona Fide Union of Municipal Employees.

“García Bardales also served as executive director of the Committee on Health and Women’s Affairs of the Senate of Puerto Rico.

“Finally, Margarita Nolasco has a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education in Mathematics from the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, a master’s degree in Education from the State University of New York and a doctorate in Education from Inter-American University of Puerto Rico.

“Nolasco’s experience in the Senate began in 2005, where she has been appointed majority leader and vice president of the body. Nolasco also served as mayor of the municipality of Coamo from 1997 to 2000.”




House lawmaker sends after-hearing responses to U.S. Justice Dept.

PDP Rep. Jesús Manuel Ortiz (CB file photo)

Aims to apprise federal authorities of potential role gov’s adviser and a contractor played in Puerto Rico gov’t health plan contracts

SAN JUAN — Minority Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Jesús Manuel Ortiz has referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI the responses requested of insurer Triple-S after a House Health Committee hearing.

The insurer states that Alberto Velázquez participated as a representative of the Health Insurance Administration (ASES by its Spanish acronym) in meetings with Triple-S related to the government’s ‘Plan Vital’ health plan as well as the contracting process in which he also represented ASES.

The report adds that although Triple-S “consulted various topics with Elías Sánchez as part of the contracting of law firm Wolf Popper LLP, effective June 1, 2017, through September 26, 2018, Sánchez did not participate in meetings between Triple-S and ASES.”

Velázquez was a subcontractor at accounting and auditing firm BDO Puerto Rico. Sánchez is an attorney and lobbyist who served as Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s former campaign manager and representative to the island’s Financial Oversight and Management Board.

On July 10, Velázquez was arrested for allegedly benefiting from contracts BDO had with the Education Department and ASES.

“The conspiracy and scheme to defraud involved federal funds paid by [the Puerto Rico Education Department] to BDO for several contracts totaling over $13 million from January 2017 until April 2019. Despite express prohibitions in said contracts, BDO subcontracted other companies to perform the services, and paid Velázquez through his company, Azur, a 10% commission for the contracts awarded through Velázquez-Piñol’s influence with government officials,” reads the indictment.

“Wolf Popper, PSC (not Wolf Popper LLP) was contracted by Triple-S Management to provide legal advice in some specific issues,” a spokesman for the firm told El Nuevo Dia on Tuesday, adding that, as “an independent contractor (Sánchez), was an attorney of record in some litigations. He doesn’t manage government issues for our clients and he doesn’t lobby for Wolf Popper, PSC or its clients.”

In its report for the House Health Committee, Triple-S further said it has “lobbyists, advisers and legal counselors who assist with government and public policy issues as part of the normal course of our businesses.”

The report was required of the insurer in response to unanswered questions asked by Health Committee lawmakers, including Ortiz, during a public hearing July 3, in which Triple-S’s representative said she didn’t know whether Velázquez or Sánchez participated in any meeting or had contracts with the insurer.

Committee Chairman Juan Oscar Morales Rodríguez asked for a report answering the lawmakers’ questions during the hearings.

In its report, Triple-S said it “complied with all the material requirements” of Plan Vital’s request for proposals process.

“I referred the documentation received as part of the information that was given to the [Health] Committee, to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Ortiz told Caribbean Business.

Ortiz explained that on July 3, a week before Velázquez was indicted and arrested for conspiracy and scheme to defraud involving federal funds paid by the Puerto Rico Education Department to BDO and to ASES, a public hearing was held to discuss House Bill 1357, which aims to look into the “payment relationship of the government health plan with health providers.” 

 “At that public hearing each insurance company, had a representative,” Ortiz said. “And I asked three questions: Whether they had lobbyists and if Elías Sánchez was or is a lobbyist. If Velázquez had participated in any meeting of Plan Vital, and if all of them had complied with the requirements established in the bidding [process] for the Plan Vital, because there was already information spreading that one of the companies had not complied…”

He said all of the companies’ representatives answered the questions except for Triple-S, whose representative said she didn’t know and didn’t have the information available. At that point, Ortiz said he asked Morales Rodríguez to include those three questions in the report to be submitted as several other questions were not answered.

The other insurers at the public hearings included MMM, Molina Health Care, Menonita and First Medical.

The PDP lawmaker explained that all of the companies except Triple-S said Velázquez participated in the meetings.

On Monday, Triple-S answered the Health Committee questions; however, the document is dated July 25.

“In the document, they basically confirm they had a contractual relationship with the law firm where Elías Sánchez is at; that he was consulted on several matters but that he was not at the meetings,” Ortiz said. “Secondly, they confirm that Velázquez was at meetings and representing ASES, which is the most important part in my opinion.”

On Tuesday, Ortiz also asked ASES to submit all of its governing board minutes in which Plan Vital was discussed as well as “information about the components of the committees that evaluated Plan Vital proposals.”

“In the government, when there is a bid, those that request to participate make a proposal and each agency has a committee that evaluates those proposals, verifies documents, verifies if they qualify or don’t qualify to form part of the bidding process,” Ortiz said. “I am requesting who forms part of that committee or committees, if there is more than one. We have to see who participated in those committees.”

On July 12, Rosselló returned to the island following the arrests of Velázquez, the former secretary of Education, the executive director of ASES and others. Caribbean Business asked Rosselló who had authorized Velázquez to tell the Education Department and ASES that he was representing his office, La Fortaleza, and whether those supposed orders came from his then-campaign manager, Elías Sánchez, the governor did not answer clearly.

“He [Velázquez Piñol] is a consultant. He has no power to make decisions. The way I know Alberto is from the [former Gov. Luis] Fortuño administration and later he was a contributor to the Plan for Puerto Rico [Rosselló’s campaign platform]. He was a consultant,” the governor said without specifying whether someone in La Fortaleza gave him instructions to negotiate Education and ASES contracts.




Puerto Rico lawmakers threaten legal action if gov names successor without consent

Senate Minority Leader Eduardo Bhatia (CB file)

Suggest parties unite ‘to protect’ the island’s stability

SAN JUAN — The leaders of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) minority in the Senate and House, Eduardo Bhatia and Rafael “Tatito” Hernández, respectively, along with Rep. Luis Vega Ramos, said Tuesday that if Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s “intention” is to swear in his successor without the legislature’s confirmation, the party will challenge the process in court.

“Rosselló’s inaction regarding his constitutional duty to fill the [secretary of State] vacancy, has kept the people anxious in facing the future in a state of total uncertainty. The lack of a clear and defined course of action by the Governor results in countless probable scenarios, one of which is to appoint a Secretary of State just before the effective date and time of the resignation of Rosselló this Friday at 5:00 p.m., so that the Legislative Assembly (House and Senate) cannot exercise the constitutional prerogative of advice and consent before that nominee becomes governor,” their joint press release reads.

The lawmakers specified that Act 7 of May 2, 2005, amended Act 7 of July 24, 1952, to require that any secretary who fills a vacancy in the office of the governor must be duly confirmed, except for the secretary of State.

“Our lawyers, as well as recognized jurists of the Country, concur that this provision is flagrantly unconstitutional because it is incompatible with the principle of the separation of powers,” they said, adding that the legislature “cannot be deprived of its constitutional duty to ratify any appointment to Secretary of State, which clearly emanates from Section 5 of Article IV of our Constitution, not to mention that a Secretary of State cannot remain in that position without being confirmed, much less take over until the end” of the four-year term.

The lawmakers assured they would be willing to take the matter to court were the governor to “irresponsibly” put “us in this situation.”
They urged the leadership of the majority New Progressive Party (NPP) “to avoid a constitutional crisis.”

If the NPP’s leaders are not fully confident that the governor “will honor his constitutional duty to send any State Department appointment for legislative advice and consent,” the lawmakers said, “we must unite immediately” and adopt a legal approach “to protect the stability of the country on behalf of the entire Legislative Power.”